What is the Golden Route?
Most first-time visitors to Japan start with a visit along Japan’s Golden Route. It is the route from Tokyo to Kyoto to Osaka, covering 3 of Japan’s most famous cities, and passing by the iconic Mount Fuji along the way. This route is most commonly covered by travellers using the bullet train (shinkansen). I have done the Golden Route by shinkansen twice using the Japan Rail Pass in May 2004 and December 2007. But now with the kids around, I decided to try driving the route instead. Both for convenience and for the experience.
Is it cheaper to drive or use shinkansen for the Golden Route?
I didn’t calculate the exact cost of driving. But my general feel was that if you have more than 3 adults in the group, driving will probably be cheaper than taking the shinkansen. With 3 adults, I would think it’s about the same. But like I said, it is just a feel, I didn’t do any exact calculations, but below is a very rough estimate:
The bulk of the cost of driving will come from car rental and toll fees. So roughly:
- 1 week car rental for a 5 seater sedan from Haneda Airport = 50,000 yen
- One way toll fee from Haneda Airport to Osaka = 15,000 yen
Total cost for car rental + 2 ways toll fees = 80,000 yen approximately
We compare that to the cost of a 7-day Japan Rail Pass for 3 adults: 29,110 x 3 = 87330 yen.
Can you see why I think the cost will probably be the same if you have 3 adults, if you factor in petrol and parking?
But of course, driving is much slower than shinkansen. I would say you would need at least 3 days (2 nights rest in between) to complete the one-way drive from Tokyo to Kyoto or Osaka comfortably. So realistically, you should spend more than 7 days to do a proper Golden Route tour via self-drive.
Tip on saving on toll fees
Should you decide to drive, one of the best tip I can share to save money on toll fee is to get an ETC card and cover as much distance on the expressways on a weekend as possible. We noticed that the ETC card gave us discount on toll fees on weekends.
Recommended Stops Along the Golden Route
Like I mentioned, you definitely need to make stops between Tokyo to Kyoto. A direct drive from Tokyo (Haneda Airport) to Kyoto is almost 500 km. Some places I recommend spending a night to break up the drive are:
If you are doing a return trip via the same route, you can divide the stops up for the West bound and East bound journey.
Stops along the Expressway
There are several PA (parking area) and SA (service area) to take a break at along the expressways. While we took several stops at random PA or SA along the way when someone needed to use the toilet or I needed to replenish the caffeine in my blood, most were forgettable except for three: SA Fujikawa 富士川, PA Kakegawa 掛川 and SA Tsuchiyama 土山.
Note that there are two parallel expressways between Gotemba and Hamamatsu: Shin Tomei Expressway and Tomei Expressway. SA Fujikawa was located along Tomei Expressway while PA Kakegawa was located along Shin Tomei Expressway. These two expressways will merge to Higashi-Meihan Expressway. And from Higashi-Meihan Expressway, you need to switch to Shin-Meishin Expressway to go to Kyoto. SA Tsuchiyama was located along Shin-Meishin Expressway.
SA Fujikawa 富士川
SA Fujikawa offered a stunning unobstructed view of Mount Fuji. We were very lucky to be there on a cloudless day, and the momiji trees there offered a picture perfect opportunity during our drive in late Autumn.
Better yet, there was a STARBUCKS there. On the nice clear day we were there, many locals were just sitting on the terrace with a Starbucks in hand while enjoying the view of their beloved Fujisan.
Note that the above is based on my visit of SA Fujikawa in the Tokyo to Nagoya (West-bound) direction. I did not visit the service area in the East-bound direction and I’m not sure what it’s like on the other side.
PA Kakegawa 掛川
PA Kakegawa was bustling with people when we were there around lunch time. There was a food court there with plenty of food options, including Yoshinoya. There was also a convenience store and souvenir store. The food court and convenience store were open 24 hours.
Again, the above information is for the service area in the West-bound direction.
SA Tsuchiyama 土山
There was a festive mood at SA Tsuchiyama, with food stalls lining the parking area.
Inside the complex, you can find a food court, restaurant, convenience store and souvenir store.
Both East-bound and West-bound traffic share the above facilities at SA Tsuchiyama.
Day 4: Tokyo – Yokohama – Gotemba
Zoorasia is one of Japan’s newest zoo with very reasonable entrance fees. It cost 600 yen per adult and our children below elementary school age could enter for free. Parking was also free.
Zoorasia was located mid-way between Tokyo and Gotemba / Hakone. So if you are doing a self-drive trip from Tokyo to Gotemba / Hakone and looking for a kids-friendly place to break up the drive, I recommend Zoorasia.
From Zoorasia, we drove to our next accommodation, Toki no Sumika at Gotemba. The most direct route from Yokohama to Gotemba was to use the expressway all the way. But we opted to exit the expressway earlier and drive through Hakone. I have special feelings for Hakone, which you can read more about in our 2008 trip and 2013 trip. To get to Gotemba, we drove through the Ashinoko Skyline, a scenic toll road which cost 600 yen per car.
With good weather and a clear view of Mount Fuji, the drive was worth every cent of the 600 yen toll fee and extra time taken. If you are doing this drive, I suggest you play by ear – if the weather is bad, just stick to the expressway which is much faster. We were there at sunset and many travellers were gathered at the panoramic view point armed with their cameras to capture the sunset and Mount Fuji.
The rest of the drive from Ashinoko to Gotemba was pitch dark, so we drove slow and arrived safe and sound in the evening. After checking in, we went around for the illumination event at Toki no Sumika.
Our accommodation for the night was one of the little huts at Slow House Villa.
We booked their kuma (bear) room – which was quite an amusing experience for the kids who got cozy with the giant teddy bear.
Day 5: Gotemba – Hamamatsu – Nagashima Onsen (Nagoya)
We had originally planned to do the drive from Gotemba to Nagashima Onsen (near Nagoya) over 2 days, spending 1 night at Kakegawa. However, we found out that Day 6 of our travel was the last day for autumn night visit to Kiyomizudera at Kyoto, so we rushed this drive to arrive at Kyoto on Day 6.
Since we were rushing for time, we did not plan sightseeing stops and only made stops along the expressway, in particular SA Fujikawa and PA Kakegawa, as mentioned at the start of the post.
We arrived at our only sightseeing destination, Hamamatsu Fruit Park, at mid-day.
The kids had so much fun at Hamamatsu Fruit Park that they refused to leave until we dragged them off at 4pm as it was getting dark.
What we didn’t anticipate was the MAJOR traffic jam to get to our next destination: Nabana No Sato – which hosted one of Japan’s largest illumination event. I should have known better – it was a Saturday and even on weekdays, there were usually traffic jams and parking problems whenever we visited major events in Japan.
After we finally got through the awful jam and got our tickets to the event, we still had to eat dinner. Which left us little time to explore the huge illumination event.
The illumination at Nabana No Sato was nothing short of spectacular. The combination of illuminated autumn foliage and Christmas lighting showcased the best of two seasons in Japan. I only regretted not dragging the kids out of Hamamatsu Fruit Park earlier.
We were at the illumination all the way until their closing time at 10pm. We spent the night at Hotel Sunroute Yokkaichi. The next morning, we continued our drive to Kyoto, stopping briefly once at SA Tsuchiyama for toilet break.
Links / Telephone Numbers / Map Codes
- Zoorasia [Tel: 045-959-1000 / Map Code: 2 258 767]
- Toki No Sumika [Tel: 0550-87-3700 / Map Code: 50 561 105]
- Hamamatsu Fruit Park [Tel: 053-428-5211 / Map Code: 26 613 465]
- Nabana No Sato [Tel: 0594-41-0787 / Map Code: 38 894 323]
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[Blogged] It's time again for Travel Tuesday! Come share your travel tales and wanderlust and say Hi to fellow travel lovers in our weekly blog hop: http://bumblebeemum.net/tag/travel-tuesday/ (Link to this week's link-up in profile.) In our post this week, we share some tips and our itinerary for driving The Golden Route in Japan. #bumblebeemumblog #bumblebeemumtravels #bumblebeemuminjapan #travelblog #travelblogger #bloghop #sgparentblogger #sgparentbloggers #sgmombloggers #sgmumbloggers #mondayescapes #traveltuesday #wednesdaywanderlust #travelthursday #airhead #airheadsflock #instatravel #instapassport #japan #japantrip #japantravel #gotemba #tokinosumika #thelittleprince #littleprince #lepetitprince #illumination #イルミネーション #御殿場
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